Monday, May 29, 2006

Freeze! This is a Ham Up!

I read a news story a few weeks ago with this headline: “Robber Allegedly Holds Up Bar With Ham Sandwich.”

O.K., I thought, you’ve got my attention, I’ll bite.

The story stated: “Police say a man used what they call a ‘gun-shaped’ object in his attempt to rob a Humboldt Park bar at 1013 N. Western Monday night. But a tipster tells CBS 2 the weapon was actually a ham sandwich molded into the shape of a gun. The ham-robber fell on his way out of the bar and was arrested. Brian Latuszek has been charged with aggravated robbery.”

And people wonder why I never run out of things to write about.

So much for the carved-block-of-soap and black-shoe-polish trick, now we have moved into the realm of luncheon meat hold-ups

How drunk does one need to be to rationalize— not only robbing a bar— but doing so with two pieces of Wonder bread, pressed ham, and a side of mayo as your weapon? Better still, how drunk would someone need to be to be threatened by a man holding a ham sandwich?

Granted, the robber should get marks for creativity as I am sure that it is not easy to mold a ham sandwich into the shape of a 38-caliber handgun. I wonder if he used white or wheat?

If this incident would have taken place in New Orleans (and it certainly could have, and sometime in the past, might have), I believe that the robber’s attempt would have been successful. First, they don’t eat a lot of ham sandwiches down there. Most of the sandwiches that are consumed are po-boys. It would be much easier to shape a po-boy into a believable assault weapon than a ham sandwich. Second, there’s no shortage of drunks in New Orleans. If they can elect Ray Nagin for another term, they could certainly fall for a po-boy being used as a firearm.

A po-boy would work, but so would many other foodstuffs. As a matter of fact, I could think of at least seven better weapons in the grueling 15 minutes it took to write this column:

SPAM. A can of SPAM would certainly be a more effective weapon than a ham sandwich. One could still stay within the “ham” theme. Though a can of SPAM is compact and could be easily concealed. It is also heavy enough to hurl across a room and do some damage.

Vienna sausage goo. That gelatinous goo floating on top of Vienna sausages is deadly stuff when in the hands of a trained professional.

Boiled Brussels sprouts and cabbage. Walk in your neighborhood bar with a large pot of boiled sprouts and cabbage and watch the place clear out faster than a group of Marilyn Manson fans at a Barry Manilow concert.

A week-old bag of Krystal burgers with extra onions. In college, I left a bag of Krystals in my car by accident. They stayed there two days. I couldn’t get a date for two years.

My wife’s broccoli and blue cheese casserole. One bite and they’ll hand over all of their worldly possessions.

A potato gun. During down times in the early days of the Purple Parrot Café, we shot potatoes out of a homemade PVC cannon from the front door across the street to a large billboard that advertised trial lawyers.

A medley of the greatest hits from the Waffle House jukebox. Not a food weapon, but a deadly threat, nonetheless. A few choruses of “Waffle House Stomp” or “Waffle House Hash Browns, I Love You” and the patrons of any business will fork over all of the money in their wallets to stop the ear-bleeding misery.

We don’t need stricter gun control laws in this country. We need more sandwiches. Now, if someone could just get Dick Cheney to use a ham and Swiss on rye the next time he goes quail hunting.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


The world is filled with heroes; unfortunately we sometimes don’t know where to find them.

Years ago I was closing a deal with a very successful businessperson. One of the principals involved in the negotiation ran a large national company that was responsible for inventing a certain product. I was given the lengthy details of his business success story immediately before the deal was negotiated in the hopes that I would be awed and intimidated during the negotiation process. I wasn’t.

I am not easily awed. Especially when basing someone’s worth on the size of his or her bank account.

Our society has misplaced the worth and value of its people. We are all valuable, each and every one of us. Basketball stars are put on a pedestal simply because they can jump high and throw a ball through a hoop. For this they receive millions and millions of dollars and the general public’s admiration.

Actors make a living by pretending to be someone else while speaking dialogue written by someone else. For this they command salaries as high as $20 million per movie and become the subject of half of the magazine topics on the news rack. It’s as if the more money they make, and the more “celebrity” they garner, the more we become enamored with their lives.

Those people are not heroes. True heroes are people such as Cookie and Bill Proubt, a couple who had successful professional careers and left it all to start a soup kitchen to feed those who couldn’t afford to eat. Twenty years ago they formed Christian Services, Inc. in my hometown where they feed, clothe and counsel, tens of thousands of people every year. I’ll take Cookie and Bill Proubt over the roster of every NBA team, any day.

Heroes are people such as Tommy Griffin who was forced to sell his family business and spend a year away from his wife and three children to honor his National Guard duty in Iraq. I’ll take one Tommy Griffin over the entire audience at the Academy Awards and not think twice about it.

Cat Cora, a native of Jackson, Miss, is nowhere near the pinnacle of her career, yet on her way up she founded the Chef’s for Humanity organization, which is the only group of its kind.

Chef’s for Humanity was formed to be a first responder of food during crises and emergencies. In the immediate days after Hurricane Katrina, Cora and a group of notable volunteers mobilized to the coast and set up mobile kitchens to feed those in need. Today, the organization continues to grow and expand its mission.

One idea, one thought, from one person is making a huge difference in the lives of those who need help the most.

Today there are people on the Gulf Coast who wake up every morning in tents and FEMA trailers not knowing what is in store for them, that day, or any day in the future. All across the country, people are in need. We’ve got plenty of stars, what we need are more heroes.

I am truly awed by the Proubts, Griffins, Coras of the world.

The true heroes aren’t in the pages of “People” magazine or “Sports Illustrated” but right next door, down the street, and across town. Join them and be a true hero to someone in need

Monday, May 15, 2006

Bring Back the Bone

In my estimation, one out of every four new restaurants that open in my hometown is an establishment that features fried chicken fingers as its main offering.

When I was a kid, fried chicken eaten outside of my grandmother’s house came in buckets and had bones in it. I don’t remember seeing small finger-sized boneless chicken breasts served in a restaurant until 1982— the dawning of the McNugget era.

According to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, “McDonald's Chairman Fred Turner approached one of his suppliers in 1979 and requested ‘I want a chicken finger-food the size of your thumb. Can you do it?’ The McNugget was quickly invented thereafter.” It wasn’t until 1983 that the McNugget was rolled out on a nationwide scale, but by then the Saturday morning cartoons were filled with advertisements for chicken nuggets and Happy Meal boxes were filled with McNuggets. There was no turning back.

The children who were born in the late 1970s and early 1980s represent the first in many subsequent generations that prefer fried chicken without the bone and white meat over dark meat.

Therein might lay our two biggest tragedies— people don’t eat as much dark meat as they used to, and people eat fried chicken away from home more than they do at home.

In my day, kids ate drumsticks. I don’t remember anyone fighting over who was going to get the breast at a family event. My grandfather always said he liked the wing, but I suspect he knew that it was the least popular piece, and he was taking one for the home team.

I love dark meat chicken and turkey. In a modern world where mass-produced chickens go from an egg to the freezer in a matter of weeks, we have given up a lot of flavor, and in our rush to eat white meat over dark; we have given up still more.

Today free-range chicken is available in most areas. Free-range chickens have been allowed to walk around and eat a more varied and healthful diet. In South Mississippi there has been a recent movement towards pastured poultry where farmers raise chickens in pens that are moved daily from one grassy area of a pasture to another. The end result is a substantial increase in flavor over mass produced chicken.

I refuse to be a parent who raises a kid who eats nothing but fried chicken fingers. It frustrated me so much last week; I busted both of my kids out of school, drove them to New Orleans and made them eat lunch at Galatoire’s. They ate crabmeat au gratin, Crabmeat Maison, Oysters en Brochette, and fried shrimp (the underwater cousin of the fried chicken finger, but adventurous enough for a four-year old) and loved every minute of it.

On the way down to New Orleans my wife reminded me that our children hardly ever eat chicken fingers. “I don’t care,” I told her. “We’re doing it as preventative medicine.”

I make my kids try everything. One bite is all I ask. When eating in a fine-dining restaurant we usually hit about 20 percent, but that’s 20 percent more than they were eating, and after four or five visits they have usually added six or seven new food items to their dining repertoire and chicken fingers begin to seem boring and unappealing.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not a food snob. My restaurants serve a lot of fried chicken tenders to kids and grown ups alike. I eat a boneless chicken breast sandwich every once in a while. But given the choice of fried boneless skinless chicken breast over a fried drumstick or a thigh, and I’m going with the latter every time. It just tastes better and that is what I want my children to learn.

This is not a fried chicken vs. grilled/roasted chicken argument. Of course roasted chicken is healthier, but in the Deep South, fried chicken is king.

We are raising a chicken finger generation. It’s probably too late to turn the tide. I guess we can count our blessings that it wasn’t the McRib that caught on 25 years ago.

Roasted Chicken

1 5-pound Chicken, whole
2 Tbl. Light olive oil
1 Tbl Kosher salt
1 Tbl. Black pepper
1 Tbl Poultry Seasoning
1 /2 Onion, small, rough chop
1 /2 Carrot, peeled and rough chopped
1 stalk Celery, rough chop

Preheat oven to 320 degrees.

Thoroughly rinse and drain the chicken. Pat dry with paper towels. Rub the entire surface with olive oil. Season inside cavity and skin with the salt, pepper and poultry seasoning. Stuff vegetables into the cavity of the chicken. Truss chicken. Place in Pyrex baking dish, breast side up.

Bake one hour and 20 minutes. Remove from oven and allow chicken to rest for 20 minutes before carving. Yield: 4-6 servings

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Basket and the Box

My friend Wyatt became a grandfather last week.

I am beginning to come to grips with the fact that I am old enough to have friends that are eligible grandparents.

Before driving to Jackson to be present at the birth, I grabbed a large wicker basket from my house and traveled to the drug store to fill it with candy, chips, and cookies.

A basket full of junk food might seem like an unorthodox baby gift, but the basket wasn’t for the baby, but the mother, Wyatt’s daughter.

When my daughter was born, the best gift my wife and I received while in the hospital was a similar basket filled with candy, chips, and cookies. The basket was placed on a table in the corner of the room next to a pile of other gifts— flower arrangements, pink baby blankets, rattles, and booties— and went mostly unnoticed until 2 a.m. on the first night.

The baby was brought in for one of her many late-night feedings and my wife and I realized we hadn’t eaten all day. In the excitement of the birth, we had forgotten about food. We tore into the junk basket with abandon. Potato chips never tasted better. It was a simple, yet wonderful, gift from someone who had been in the same situation a few years earlier. After two long nights of multiple feedings, we had emptied the basket.

I love being a father. It is the best job I will ever have, and by far, the most important. I had wanted to be a father since I was a kid. My father died when I was six, and I guess I felt like I could fill a void by playing the role of something that I was never able to experience.

Even though I wanted badly to be a father, it didn’t happen until I was 36-years old. In all of the years I had dreamed about being a father— thinking about what it would be like, and how it would feel to have a child of my own to raise— there was no doubt in my mind that I would love my child. I had no idea.

When they placed my daughter in my arms it was like a box that had been hidden deep inside of me opened for the first time, and my capacity to love another human being became stronger and deeper than I ever could have imagined. Parents know exactly what I am talking about.

I knew I would love my children, though I had no idea of the depth of that love until the box was opened. There is no joy like the sheer joy that is the privledge of parenthood.

Last week in that Jackson hospital room, I was taken back to a moment almost nine years ago. My wife and I were sitting on a hospital bed, I was holding my daughter in my arms— a brand new life with fresh, pink skin, tiny fingers, wisps of dark hair, toes like her mama’s, and a head that smelled of lavender. We were eating chocolate chip cookies and staring at this wonderful little human being that seemed to have come from nowhere. Nothing in the world existed outside of that moment.

For Wyatt and his family, the box is open, again. Welcome to the world, Dylan Cade.
The New Mississippi Oil Boom

Yesterday I spent $70.00 to fill my vehicle with gas.

Gasoline prices are at an all-time high and experts are forecasting even steeper prices in the near future. I am not worried.

With all of the recent talk of record-high gas prices affecting the economy, more information is now being released about biodiesel as an alternative fuel. Biodiesel is a reformulated diesel fuel that is produced from animal fat, vegetable oil, or recycled restaurant grease.

I won’t worry about high gas prices because I live in Mississippi the recycled-restaurant grease, deep-fat frying capital of the world. This biodiesel stuff is going to place us into the driver’s seat for the 21 st century, just as cotton did in the 19 th century. Folks, we’re back!

This is exciting. One can’t throw a rock in Mississippi without hitting an all-you-can-eat catfish buffet or fried chicken franchise. Hell, we even fry biscuits, Twinkies and Snicker bars down here. We’ve got more grease than any region on the planet.

Mr. Bush, we don’t need more foreign oil, we need more fried catfish restaurants.

Iowa and Nebraska only thought they had a leg up on the alternative-fuel solution with their corn-made ethanol. Mississippi now has the edge with recycled restaurant grease. Though we need to speak to someone about a better name, biodiesel doesn’t exactly roll off of the tongue.

I propose Lardinol (Note: I hereby register the word Lardinol and want a percentage of all future sales for coming up with the catchy name) Not only does Lardinol® sound more elegant than ethanol, it does what all great product names should do— it tells the consumer what it’s about. Lardinol® is produced because we have “lard in all” of our food. Mississippi, it’s us. It’s here. It’s now. It’s brilliant. I’m proud.

The fossil fuels giants’ best days are behind them. Move over Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Mississippi is soon to become the petroleum capital of the planet.

The Nissan plant in Canton can do their part by retrofitting their automobiles to burn Lardinol®. Better still, maybe one of the Nissan engineers can develop an SUV with a built-in deep fat fryer in the third row seat. Americans could fry chicken gizzards while driving to and from work, never once having to stop at a gas station.

Ah, the possibilities.

So long “Black Gold,” “Texas T,” the Lone Star state’s oil monopoly is over. The wells will run dry. The glass skyscrapers in Houston will empty. Movies such as Giant and TV shows reminiscent of Dallas are long gone. Look for the new nighttime soap opera Tutwiler— the riveting weekly saga of a catfish farming family’s biodiesel dynasty in a small Mississippi Delta town— complete with the first season cliffhanger: Who shot Billy Earl?

And we thought being the fattest state in the union was a detriment. On the contrary, we have only been going back for seconds to do our part in helping solve the world’s energy needs. From now on, each and every Mississippian should line up at the fried seafood buffet a minimum of three times a week. It is in our country’s best interest. National security is at stake. Pile a few extra hushpuppies on your plate; it’s your duty as a patriotic American, and a citizen of the soon-to-be richest state in the union.

When the oil-rich nations’ power began to increase, they formed the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, better known as OPEC. As the Lardinol® craze catches on, and cars begin to burn recycled tater tot grease, we will need to form our own alliance. Therefore, as of today, I am establishing the Federation for Lard Advancement through Biodiesel, FLAB. Again, a name that tells it all, and again, I want a cut for creating the catchy handle.

Our new state motto: Save gas, eat catfish. E Pluribus Eatum, Amen.